First Order

The Murder of Lor San Tekka

We had only just met him in the opening moments of The Force Awakens before he is brutally murdered by Kylo Ren. Sitting in a small hut, Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) offered a valuable item to Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), an item which will be critical to the plot of the film. Their conversation also offers brief but important context as the movie opens, with the elder providing his thoughts on the state of the galaxy, the Jedi, the Force, and General Leia Organa. “To me, she’s royalty,” he points out when Dameron mentions the General, an obvious nod to Leia’s more familiar title of Princess (both in universe and among the audience).

The dialogue between Lor San Tekka and Poe Dameron is abruptly cut short when BB-8, the pilot’s droid, bursts through the door with a warning: the First Order is approaching. Seeing troop transports on the horizon, Dameron tells Lor San Tekka “You have to hide” to which the older man responds, “You need to leave.” At this urging, Dameron runs through the small village, a village teeming with commotion as it prepares to defend itself against the First Order incursion.

Only a short time later, the village will be overrun by stormtroopers, and a massive black shuttle will descend. Out of the shuttle will walk Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and he will head towards the center of the town where Lor San Tekka is being help with the remaining villagers. Now, Lor San Tekka will engage in another dialogue, this time with a man shrouded in darkness whose face is hidden by a terrifying mask. It is Ren who speaks first.

Lor San Tekka confronts Kylo Ren.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Kylo Ren: “Look how old you’ve become.”

Lor San Tekka: “Something far worse has happened to you.”

Kylo Ren: “You know what I’ve come for.”

Lor San Tekka: “I know where you come from, before you called yourself Kylo Ren.”

Kylo Ren: “The map to Skywalker, we know you found it. And now you are going to give it to the First Order.”

Lor San Tekka: “The First Order rose from the Dark Side. You did not.”

Kylo Ren: “I’ll show you the Dark Side.”

Lor San Tekka: “You may try. But you cannot deny the truth that is your family.”

Kylo Ren: “You’re so right.”

Finally agreeing with the elder, Kylo Ren springs into action. Igniting his lightsaber, he raises it above his head and attacks. San Tekka only has time to raise his arms in defense, covering his face, before he is cut down by the crackling red blade.

While I had mixed feelings about The Force Awakens the first time I saw it, the murder of Lor San Tekka was a moment that left me with no reservations. To be blunt, I thought it was brilliant. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of gratuitous violence for the sake of entertainment. I do, however, appreciate a death which is meaningful, where the loss of life, even in its obvious brutality, adds to the story in a worthwhile way. And this is how I see the death of Lor San Tekka. While he is a very minor character in The Force Awakens, his murder- tied to the dialogue immediately preceding it – adds terrifying and frightening depth to Kylo Ren, this new villain in the Star Wars sequel trilogy.

A Closer Look

From the very outset of their conversation we learn something rather stunning: Kylo Ren and Lor San Tekka already know each other, and their connection clearly goes back years. Kylo Ren mocks the man’s age and appearance, a clear indication that he can recall at time when this old man was younger. But this ageist mockery opens Kylo Ren to a piercing retort from Lor San Tekka: “something far worse [than growing old] has happened to you.” If Kylo Ren knew a younger Lor San Tekka, then Lor San Tekka remembers when the villain was NOT an agent of darkness.

Ren does not take the bait. Instead, he immediately turns the conversation to what he is seeking, stating “You know what I’ve come for.” Instead of addressing Ren’s object of desire (undoubtedly the object given to Poe Dameron) San Tekka takes Ren’s words and flips them by going deeper into the personal connection. “I know where you come from,” he says, “before you called yourself Kylo Ren.” It was Kylo Ren who opened this dialogue by making it personal when he mocked the man’s age, but now Lor San Tekka has flipped-the-script, calling the villain’s adopted name/title into question by citing his knowledge of Ren’s life before his turn to darkness.

Again, Kylo Ren does not respond directly to San Tekka’s comment. Instead, he stares at the man and declares what he wants: “the map to Skywalker.” “We know you found it,” Ren continues, clearly annoyed as he begins pacing, “and now you are going to give it to the First Order.”  To this, Lor San Tekka flips Ren’s words once more, directing the conversation once more into their personal connection. “The First Order rose from the Dark Side,” he remarks, “you did not.” It is not just that Lor San Tekka knows villain’s real name, but he also knows the man calling himself “Kylo Ren” was raised in the Light Side.

This hits a nerve. Now, Kylo Ren deliberately moves in front of San Tekka so the two are once again face-to-face. “I’ll show you the Dark Side,” the villain declares, a clear threat meant to intimidate. Unsurprisingly, the threat does not have the effect Ren anticipates and the old man maintains his composure. Instead, San Tekka responds by acknowledging that Ren “may try” showing him the Dark Side, but that Ren “cannot deny the truth that is your family.”  It is now that Kylo Ren has had enough. “You’re so right,” he calmly responds and then viscously cuts Lor San Tekka down with his cross-guard lightsaber.

What makes Ren’s attack even more disturbing is the camera angle and movement suggests we are looking at Ren from Lor San Tekka’s perspective.
Gif Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

That Kylo Ren chooses this moment to kill Lor San Tekka, after the elder mentions Ren’s “family,” is telling. It is the most direct hint we are provided in the exchange regarding the identity of Kylo Ren, an identity which is revealed over the course of the film and reaches its climax in Act III. There is only one family Ren could possibly belong to, but it is also clear that Lor San Tekka and Kylo Ren have very different interpretations, differing “truths,” of that family’s story. And by murdering Lor San Tekka, Kylo Ren offers his interpretation, his truth.

Yet, this act is not only about Ren’s interpretation of family, it is also about his interpretation of self. With the ferocious stroke of his crackling red blade, Kylo Ren formally declares his identity as an unhinged monster who embraces the Dark Side of the Force. In the act of murder Kylo Ren proves that he is not the man Lor San Tekka once knew, and he wants nothing to do with who he was prior to his dark conversion. In this regard, the murder of Lor San Tekka is not just about a villain murdering a defenseless old man, an obvious act of evil which leaves little doubt about how this dark figure operates. No, it also symbolic, a way for the villain to kill his former self by-proxy. Through the murder of Lor San Tekka, Kylo Ren symbolically murders Ben Solo, and it should come as no surprise that as The Force Awakens progresses that Kylo Ren continuously seeks ways to destroy the man he once was, an obsession which ultimately culminates in another horrifying murder in the form of patricide.

Haikuesday: Finn (TFA)

Desert, Stormtrooper.
“There’s been an Awakening…”
Is the Force with him?

The Force Awakens
Not only about Rey but
Also about Finn.

Raiding a village
One trooper’s helmet is marked
by a bloody hand.

Panic takes over.
Disoriented by the
Destruction and Death.

Villagers murdered
but one stormtrooper does not
fire his blaster

On the Destroyer,
FN-2187
removes his helmet

A reprimand from,
chrome armored Captain Phasma
“Submit your blaster…”

Wanting to escape,
FN-2187
frees a prisoner.

TIE Fighter stolen.
The two exchange pleasantries:
FN becomes Finn.

Back to Jakku but
their Fighter is hit, crashes.
Finn is ejected.

Desert Wanderer –
Stripping armor, leaving his
old life in the sand.

Happabore water,
disgusting but thirst quenching.
No germs I suppose?

A woman attacked.
Finn comes to the rescue but
she doesn’t need help.

A daring escape.
Finn and the woman named Rey.
BB-8 as well.

A ship that’s garbage.
Commandeered by Finn and Rey.
Finn takes a turret.

Finn and BB-8
have a little back and forth.
Thumbs up in the end.

Releasing Rathtars.
Finn is almost eaten but
Rey will rescue him.

Confronting Solo,
Finn explains he’s a “big deal”
Han sees right through it.

Kanata’s Castle –
Maz discovers that Finn’s a
“….man who wants to run.”

Confronted by Rey,
Finn shares his story, his truth –
enslaved as a boy.

Conditioned to be
a First Order Stormtrooper
but he made a choice.

First Order attack!
With an iconic weapon
Finn enters the fray.

Declared a traitor.
Finn and a stormtrooper fight.
Han lends his support.

Finn and Poe embrace.
Their bromance takes shape as the
two become close friends.

Haiku Addendum:
I was rooting for them to
be a hot item.

Mission with Solo:
Take down the Starkiller shield.
Maybe use the Force?

Finn’s Starkiller job:
He was in sanitation.
Han is none too pleased.

Finn’s real mission is
to find and rescue Rey but
She doesn’t need help.

Resistance attack.
Finn and company look on
as battle rages.

Diminishing Light.
Two friends watch as Han Solo
is killed by his son.

Dark, snowy forest.
A hate-filled, bleeding monster.
Finn ignites the Light.

Bested by the beast.
Wounded but not mortally.
Finn will Awaken.

Actor: Boyega –
Fucking hates racists and I
fucking hate them too.


Check out these other Haikuesday 2.0 posts:

Imperial Atrocities

Luke Skywalker (ANH)

Luke Skywalker (ESB)

Luke Skywalker (ROTJ)

Dark Lords of the Sith

Star Wars Planets

The Great Jedi Purge

Star Wars Aliens

Clone Troopers


The Sacrifice of Paige Tico

Caught in the open during the evacuation of their base on D’Qar, the Resistance confronts an existential moment of crisis as it stares down the barrel of two orbital autocannons, affixed to a First Order Dreadnaught, targeting their base and fleet. With only seconds to spare, the final Resistance transports flee the surface of D’Qar as the autocannons obliterate the now empty base. With personnel and equipment safely aboard the vessels of the Resistance fleet, General Leia Organa orders her forces to disengage but Poe Dameron has a different idea. Having taken out the surface cannons on the Dreadnought, Dameron ignores his commanding officer, switching off his communications, intent on scoring a victory against the First Order by taking out the “fleet-killer.”

One can easily criticize Dameron for his actions; and he is criticized, even demoted, when the Resistance makes its orbital exit from the D’Qar system following the battle. In this moment, though, the impetuous Commander gives the order to attack. Protected by X-Wings and A-Wings in the Resistance starfighter fleet, massive B/SF-17 heavy bombers “in tight formation” slowly move towards the Dreadnought preparing to unleash their payload of proton bombs to destroy the terrifying Man-of-war.

Although it’s surface cannons were knocked out by Dameron’s lone assault, the Dreadnought is not defenseless. TIE Fighter Squadrons throw themselves against the Resistance attackers, intent on destroying the bombers. A fierce dogfight commences. Starfighters on both sides are vaporized. A B/SF-17 is blasted apart by the green lasers of an attacking TIE. But the Resistance does not let up, and the Bombers close the distance with the imposing First Order capital ship which is now aiming its massive autocannons at the Resistance fleet. Bombardiers ready their payloads, opening bay doors and arming bombs as the vessels inch closer to “the sweet spot” where they will inflict maximum destruction.

Suddenly, a damaged TIE Fighter crashes into one of the Bombers, unleashing hell. Shredded from the inside, massive detonations hurtle debris into two other B/SF-17s which also erupt into flame. Watching from the ball turret at the base of her Bomber, a Resistance gunner witnesses the destruction. Removing her mask and breathing heavy, her wide-eyes reveal her shock and disbelief.

Paige Shocked
Paige Tico’s expression when she sees the other Resistance Bombers exploding.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Now, this gunner’s Bomber is the only one that remains. Suspended above the massive First Order ship, it is the last hope for the small Resistance fleet. The situation is perilous and the tension is amplified when Dameron frantically contacts the gunner:

“Paige, come in, we’re over the target. Why aren’t your bay doors open? You’re the only bomber left, it’s all down to you!”

This gunner, Paige, springs into action. Exiting the ball turret at the bottom of the weapons bay, she opens the bay doors and calls to the bombardier up above. 

“Nix!,” she yells, but there is no reply, only the distinct beeping of the weapons release on the grated floor far above.

“Paige, drop the payload, now!,” Dameron frantically exclaims. Determination on her face, she frantically climbs the ladder, past the armed bombs in their racks, emerging at the top to find the bombardier, Nix, dead on the floor. Paige reaches for the beeping, blinking weapons trigger laying nearby but as she does, a TIE Fighter blasts the cockpit of the Bomber, killing the pilot and sending fire and shock waves through the cabin. Losing her grip, Paige falls, landing heavy on the floor at the bottom of the weapons bay.

Momentarily unconscious, Tico opens her eyes. The trigger, still beeping, is far above, now dangling on the edge of the opening at the top of the ladder. Paige kicks the ladder but it does not fall to her. Again, she kicks, even harder, but it still does not fall. The Bomber continues forward, now moving over the “sweet spot” of the Dreadnought. The music laid over the scene adds to the tension, and we see Poe Dameron soundless but clearly screaming for the bombs to be dropped. Again, and again, Paige kicks the ladder but still the device does not fall to her.

Tico Kick
Determination on her face, Paige kicks the ladder a final time. Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Autocannons glowing red as they prepare to fire, General Organa sensing the impending doom of her forces, now Tico closes her eyes and clutches a half-crescent medallion on her necklace. Opening her eyes once more, a clear sense of determination painted on her face, Paige kicks the ladder with all her strength. Finally, the trigger tips over the edge and falls. Everything goes silent, the lone exception the sound of the remote clanking against a bomb rack on its way down. Laying there in the silence, Tico exhales as she watches the still beeping, blinking device go by her.

The camera view is now on the falling remote. Suddenly, the music begins to build and a hand reaches out, grasping it from the air. Paige is now laying face down, the item in her left hand. She presses the blinking red button and the bombs begin to drop on the Dreadnought, unleashing incendiary death.

Still laying there, Tico puts her hand once more to her medallion, touching it with a few fingers. We see her face, looking down through the grated floor, fire spreading down towards her through the now empty bomb bay. Resigned to her fate, a stoic expression upon her face, Paige Tico closes her eyes and is bathed in the flames of her dying craft as it crashes into the inferno ripping through the Dreadnought.


To say that Paige Tico (Veronica Ngo) is a minor character in The Last Jedi is neither controversial nor surprising. Two minutes after meeting her as she watches the other Resistance Bombers perish, she too is gone, vaporized in a massive explosion. But while her screen time is brief, her actions are exceedingly important, not only saving the Resistance but also, we learn soon after, the life of her sister Rose.

I have never been shy with my thoughts about The Last Jedi, disliking a number of things about the movie. I highlight as much in my piece Reflections on the Last Jedi, but my intention here is not to dwell on the negative. Instead, I mention that post to note that while I find The Last Jedi lacking in some specific ways, there are scenes and characters that I really did enjoy and could appreciate in the film. And at the top of that list is Paige Tico.

The first time I saw The Last Jedi I was absolutely mesmerized by the two minutes this Resistance gunner, Paige, is in the movie. In general, I find the opening of the film quite good, hitting all of the right notes as the small Resistance, caught in the midst of their evacuation, confronts the First Order. But Paige truly stands out, the opening sequence reaching a tension-filled crescendo with her heroism and ultimate sacrifice.

Honestly, this is my favorite moment in the entire Sequel Trilogy. I very well might be the only one who feels this way, or perhaps I am one of just a few. It’s the truth, though. The entire sequence doesn’t just captivate me, it affects me at my core. Frankly, this is why I have never written about the sacrifice of Paige Tico, at least not until now. I have never been able to find the words to express just how much this scene, Tico’s actions/death, speaks to me. The fact is that it just done, plain and simple. But if I have to put it into words, expressing some reason that accounts for my feelings, I would say this: it is because Paige’s sacrifice is incredibly personal.

As an audience, we are the only ones who know what Paige Tico does to save the Resistance fleet, who actually witness her actions and her death. Later, when meet Rose Tico mourning her sister, her own crescent-shaped medallion in hand, Rose can only imagine what happened in the final moments of Paige’s life. We are burdened with knowledge that Rose can not and will never know. To me, this is what makes the two minutes we spend with Paige Tico so intimate, so personal, so damn powerful. 

We see Paige react to the destruction of the Bombers, shock and disbelief on her face.
We see Paige climb out of her ball turret, call to Nix, and climb the ladder.
We see Paige fall when the cockpit of her Bomber is destroyed.
We see Paige, on her back, desperately kicking the ladder to get the trigger to fall to her.
We see Paige close her eyes and grasp the medallion around her neck.
We see Paige kick the ladder one final time, knocking the trigger off the ledge above.
We see Paige grab the trigger out of the air as it falls past her, releasing the bombs.
We see Paige touch her medallion a final time, close her eyes and die.

We alone see the final two minutes of her life; we see the sacrifice of Paige Tico.

Paige Tico's Death
The Sacrifice of Paige Tico
Gif Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

 

 

The (Mis)Use of Rose Tico

I wasn’t a huge fan of The Last Jedi. I explain as much in my piece Reflections on The Last Jedi (which you can read for yourself). But while I did not find it as groundbreaking as other Star Wars fans, neither did I fully despise the film. I could appreciate the film at points, acknowledging that the movie presented clever and unique ideas, along with some interesting new characters.

Two of those characters were the Tico sisters: Paige and Rose. While Paige Tico only appears at the beginning of The Last Jedi as a ball gunner in a Resistance bomber, her small role is massive in that she sacrifices herself to destroy a First Order dreadnaught which threatens the Resistance fleet. Grasping the crescent necklace around her neck, Paige Tico dies in order for others, including her sister Rose, to live.

Rose, in turn, makes her appearance after Paige’s death, when Finn comes across  her as he attempts to leave the Resistance fleet. Rose, grasping her own crescent necklage, sits in tears. Introduced by this obvious connection to her sister – and subsequently mentioning her sister to Finn – Rose ends up going on an adventure with Finn and BB-8 to the planet Canto Bight. In turn, Rose, Finn and BB-8, accompanied by the slicer DJ, eventually make their way to the First Order fleet chasing the Resistance fleet in the hopes of disabling the First Order’s hyperspace device. Captured while aboard the First Order Mega-Star Destroyer thanks to the betrayal of DJ, Tico and company end up stealing an enemy shuttle in order to make it to the new Resistance base on the nearby planet Crait.

Once on Crait, Rose participates in a desperate ground battle with her allies, piloting a ski speeder against overwhelming First Order numbers in the hopes of destroying the enemy battering ram cannon. Finn, whom Rose has grown close to by this point in the film thanks to the adventure to Canto Bight and the First Order Star Destroyer, chooses to sacrifice himself when all hope seems lost, piloting his ski speeder towards the massive cannon. But at the last minute, Tico crashes into Finn, pushing him off course. In turn, Finn will run to Rose, pulling her from the wreckage but first questioning why she crashed into him. Rose, bleeding and shaken, will explain to Finn that  “…we’re gonna win, not fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.” Rose then kisses Finn before she passes out from her wounds. Dragged back to the Resistance base by Finn, the unconscious Rose will survive the Battle of Crait with the remaining Resistance fighters aboard the Millennium Falcon.

Rose Finn Kiss
Rose and Finn kiss during The Battle of Crait
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

When I saw The Last Jedi, I thought Rose Tico was an interesting and well-developed character even though I did not entirely care for the adventure she takes to Canto Bight or the First Order Star Destroyer. What drew me to Rose was her hopeful spirit, her resilience, her internal confidence, and her desire to help others. She is introduced in The Last Jedi as a character who is overwhelmed by the loss of her sister but also inspired by her sister’s heroic sacrifice. When she meets Finn, she is equally overwhelmed, amazed she is speaking with the First Order stormtrooper-turned-Resistance hero who also inspires her to keep fighting the good fight. Filled with deep admiration for the heroes in the Resistance, Rose Tico is the embodiment of the heart and fighting spirit which keeps the Resistance going, a perfect example of the “spark that’ll light the fire that’ll burn the First Order down.” 

But this brief overview of Rose and her role in The Last Jedi is a means to an end, a small set-up to arrive at the larger point of reflection I wish to discuss: the way Rose Tico was (mis)used in The Rise of Skywalker.

The (Mis)Use of Rose Tico

When I went into my first viewing of The Rise of Skywalker, the final installment of Disney’s Star Wars sequel trilogy, I did so with the presumption that Rose Tico would be an important player in the events which would transpire. My presumption, unfortunately, was wrong.

Violet Kim, a journalist for Slate, recently published a short piece about Rose Tico’s notable absence from The Rise of Skywalker. In the piece, which you can read HERE, Kim notes that Rose appears on-screen in The Rise of Skywalker, a movie with a run-time of 2 hours and 22 minutes, for only 1 minute and 16 seconds.  As a point of contrast, Kim goes on to note that in The Last Jedi, which has a run-time of 2 hours and 32 minutes, Rose is on-screen for 10 minutes and 53 seconds. 

Even without the breakdown into minutes and seconds – which is, admittedly, pretty eye-popping – it is obvious that Rose’s role in the film is lacking. And I am not going to lie, this (mis)use of Rose Tico left me feeling equally perplexed and upset. In part, I felt this way because after The Last Jedi, actress Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose, was assailed online with racist and sexual harassment which in turn led Tran to delete her social media presence. In a sense, the lack of screentime for Rose in The Rise of Skywalker makes it seem as though these online trolls actually got their way, that they were successful in getting a principal character, a woman of color, sidelined in the film. Because of the nasty vitriol which Kelly Marie Tran was subjected to following The Last Jedi, it was even more critical and important for J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio, co-writers of The Rise of Skywalker, to find ways to raise Tico’s profile in the movie. That this did not happen is not only unfortunate, but it makes one wonder if Abrams and Terrio took Tran’s harassment seriously or considered the possibility that if Rose was not featured more prominently in the film that her absence would embolden the trolls who attacked Tran in the first place.

In their defense, Terrio did come out and explain that Rose was intended to be more prominent in the film. As he explains in an interview with Clarence Moye of Awards Daily, he and Abrams,

“…wanted Rose to be the anchor at the rebel base who was with Leia. We thought we couldn’t leave Leia at the base without any of the principals whom we love, so Leia and Rose were working together. As the process evolved, a few scenes we’d written with Rose and Leia turned out not to meet the standard of photorealism that we’d hoped for. Those scenes unfortunately fell out of the film.”

That Rose was to be featured more in the film, albeit before the editing process took over, is certainly positive. And that she was to be the principal character interacting with Leia is notable even if a number of those scenes were cut from the film. But while I can grant this point to Terrio and Abrams, applauding them for wanting Rose to work closely with Leia, I can simultaneously admit that I find Terrio’s response vague and unconvincing . It is all well-and-good to say that he and Abrams intended for Rose to be in the film more than she is, working alongside Leia, but the fact remains that she is barely in the film (even though Tran herself has noted that she filmed other scenes for the movie). And as a result, her story feels truncated, abruptly cut-off in the wake of The Last Jedi without any sense of finality.

This is all the more disappointing when we consider that the signature moment for Rose in The Last Jedi, the moment she saves Finn from his hatred for the First Order and then kisses him, is entirely ignored in The Rise of Skywalker. Given the adventure they go on in The Last Jedi, Rose obviously started having strong feelings for the former Stormtrooper. Whether Finn felt the same way is left unanswered at the end of The Last Jedi, but The Rise of Skywalker is uninterested in exploring this possibility, or even addressing it. Instead, The Rise of Skywalker seems content to ignore Rose’s kiss and her feelings altogether, instead focusing more on Finn’s connection with Rey, and his relationship with Jannah (another former Stormtrooper who is introduced half-way through the movie). It is as if The Rise of Skywalker is engaged in the narrative “ghosting” of Rose, with Finn purposefully ignoring her because he has other things to do and people (Rey, Poe, C-3PO, Chewbacca, BB-8,and the new droid D-O) to be with. 

Rose Tico Exegol
Rose Tico during The Battle of Exegol, one of the few times we actually see her in the movie.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Again, in fairness, this is not to say Rose is not given the chance to join Finn and the others on their galactic scavenger hunt. When she is asked to come along, Rose responds with a narratively contrived reason she needs to stay at the Resistance base: because the General, Rose explains, needs her to analyze the specs of the old, Imperial-class Star Destroyers. With the intention of making Rose the principal with Leia, this ensures that we are all filled-in on why Rose is hanging back. Sadly, with her scenes with Leia being edited out of the film, her need to analyze Star Destroyers instead feels like an excuse to remove her from the main plot of the film, sidelining her so the real heroes can hang out on the Millennium Falcon and save the galaxy. 

But the thing is, as I watched The Rise of Skywalker and went on the galactic adventure with the films principal heroes – Rey, Finn, and Poe – I found myself missing Rose even more. I sat and wished she was part of the team, having the chance not only to have a heart-to-heart with Finn during their travels, but also the opportunity to get to know Rey, laugh with Poe, play (and even beat!) Chewbacca at dejarik, work side-by-side with BB-8 and C-3PO, and show kindness to the skittish D-O. Moreover, I found myself wishing Rose Tico was there so she could continue to be “the spark” of Resistance she so fully embodied in The Last Jedi, her heart and fighting spirit, and the crescent necklace around her neck, used as a constant reminder to the heroes (and viewers) that winning would be accomplished  “not fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.”

Where Are The Dead Bodies?

In my last post – Continuity Confusion in Resistance – I outlined the plot of the Season 2 episode of Star Wars Resistance titled “A Quick Salvage Run.” In turn, I examined how, at the end of that episode, when the Colossus makes its getaway from the First Order, the ship is not tracked through hyperspace, an outright confusing fact considering the First Order possess the technology to do so. For the sake of brevity, I will let you go read that post to see what I say about the topic. Here, though, I wanted to return briefly to “A Quick Salvage Run” to pose a question that popped into my mind as I was watching. Allow me to set the stage.

In the episode, Kazuda Xiono leads a salvage team comprised of the members of the Warbird pirate gang to the Fulminatrix, the First Order Dreadnought destroyed by the Resistance at the beginning of The Last Jedi. The intention of the salvage run is pretty straightforward for Xiono: find the hyperfuel (coaxium) still in the ship and bring it back to the Colossus. Of course, the pirates have ulterior motives, salvaging any other materials they deem valuable, although they do not hinder the primary objective. 

As one can imagine, the “quick salvage run” to the Fulminatrix is the core of this episode, and many scenes are devoted to Xiono and his confederates scouring the wreckage of the massive vessel. And it is was during these scenes aboard the Fulminatrix where my question popped into my head:

Where are the dead bodies?

Seriously, there are no bodies of First Order crew members anywhere to be found within the wreckage of the Fulminatrix. Not even one. According to the reference book Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Incredible Cross-Sections, the dreadnought had the following personnel aboard:

  • 53,000 officers
  • 140,000 enlisted
  • 22,000 stormtroopers

That is a total of 215,000 crew aboard the Fulminatrix when it was bombed by the Resistance!!! Are we really to believe that Xiono and company are running about the vessel and no dead bodies would be present? I mean, it stands to reason that some of the crew were probably able to evacuate the doomed dreadnought, while the bodies of thousands of others  – like Captain Canady – were completely incinerated in the inferno triggered by the Resistance bombs. Never-the-less, it is difficult to believe that not a single dead body would be laying about as Xiono and the pirates navigate the debris-strewn corridors of the dreadnought. Surely, hundreds, if not thousands, of bodies should be strewn about the ship, contorted and mangled by the explosions that ripped through the Fulminatrix. 

Fulminatrix Explosion
The destruction of the Fulminatrix.
Gif Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

I mean, I guess someone could argue that because Star Wars Resistance is a kids show – it is animated and on Disney XD – the presence of dead bodies would be upsetting to children. Frankly, I find that reasoning entirely unconvincing, especially because animated Star Wars programs have been known to show death/dead bodies in the past. Besides, “war” is in the name of the franchise and this means there is an obligation not to sanitize warfare. This is not to suggest that every Star Wars story must depict the exact same level of death, horror, and destruction. I hardly think a “kids show” needs to show the grotesque, burnt corpses of First Order ensigns and gunners littering the hallways of a destroyed dreadnought. No, in this case, a few dead stormtroopers lining the darkened hallways as Xiono and the pirates walk-by would have been enough, a clear reminder to kids and adults alike that when the Resistance bombs exploded, people died. 

Continuity Confusion in Resistance

In a recent episode of Star Wars: Resistance – “A Quick Salvage Run” – Kazuda Xiono and his compatriots aboard the Colossus find themselves in orbit above the planet D’Qar. There, they discover the Resistance base on the surface abandoned – nay, destroyed! – and the wreckage of Resistance and First Order ships drifting aimlessly above the world. At the center of the debris field is the wreckage of the Fulminatrix, the First Order Dreadnaught destroyed by the heroic sacrifice of Paige Tico during the Evacuation and Battle of D’Qar at the beginning of The Last Jedi.

That the second episode of Resistance’s final season brings fans back to D’Qar following the opening battle of The Last Jedi is an intriguing piece of connectivity between stories. It is a connection that goes beyond superficiality to show that events taking place at one moment can have ramifications for others later on. And this is particularly true for Xiono and those aboard the Colossus. As their ship is in desperate need of hyperspace fuel to escape the First Order, Xiono leads a crew to the wreckage of the Fulminatrix to salvage fuel from the destroyed dreadnaught. 

STAR WARS RESISTANCE
The Colossus
Photo Credit – Star Wars Resistance Episode 2, Season 2: “A Quick Salvage Run”

While aboard the Fulminatrix, a First Order Star Destroyer tracking the Colossus appears above D’Qar, led there by an ill-advised communication from Xiono to his friend-turned-First Order pilot Tam Ryvora. A battle ensues, the hyperfuel is salvaged, and just before the Colossus is decimated it zips into hyperspace, the First Order is foiled in their attempt to destroy the massive ship.

Except, the Colossus does not get away! Immediately after exiting hyperspace, far from the planet D’Qar, the First Order Star Destroyer reappears. It has tracked the Colossus through lightspeed! Turning it’s full compliment of 1,500+ turbolasers, point-defense lasers, and ion cannons against the Colossus, the Destroyer rips the massive refueling station to bits and leaves the wreckage, and dead bodies, floating in the vacuum of space.

Okay, I made that last part up (it’s why I put it all in italic), but I did so to point out that there is a “Fulminatrix”-sized continuity hole in the ending of this episode. While “A Quick Salvage Run” does a wonderful job of directly tying itself to the events at the beginning of The Last Jedi, the showrunners completely and utterly forgot to factor in one of the biggest and most important plot points from the movie. Namely, that the First Order has the technology to track ships through hyperspace! 

Point of Continuity Confusion

In my previous post – Continuity Confusion in The Last Jedi – I highlighted some thoughts regarding the First Order’s pursuit of the Resistance in The Last Jedi. I won’t rehash the post here but I will note that one of the points I make is that The Last Jedi used, as a central plot point, a concept first teased in Rogue One: the concept of hyperspace tracking. In The Last Jedi, the Resistance is completely caught off-guard when the First Order tracks their fleet through lightspeed, and the actions of the Resistance leadership going forward in the film are driven by the reality that they cannot simply re-jump to hyperspace to flee their enemy.

In turn, The Last Jedi also goes out of its way to fill us in on a handful of key points, also important to the plot, regarding hyperspace tracking. For our sake, the one that truly matters is that even blowing up the ship doing the tracking, the lead Destroyer in the First Order fleet, will be pointless. Why? Because another Star Destroyer will just start doing the tracking. Here is the dialogue where Finn explains this very point to Poe Dameron:

Poe: “Just give it to me one more time, simpler.”

Finn: “So the First Order’s only tracking us from one Destroyer, the lead one.”

Poe: “So we blow that one up.”

Finn: “I like where your heads at but no, they’d only start tracking us from another Destroyer.”

Did you catch that? Finn explains that the First Order can track them using any Destroyer. Blow one up, another will do the tracking. The implication is that every First Order capital ship has hyperspace tracking capabilities.

So, with that in mind, turning back to Star Wars Resistance, I am left utterly confused by the fact that the Colossus jumps to hyperspace at the end of  “A Quick Salvage Run” but the First Order Star Destroyer does not track it through lightspeed. It has the ability to do so, but it doesn’t…??? 

Honestly, I am not just confused by this, I am dumbfounded. Hyperspace tracking is THE plot point driving a major portion of the narrative in The Last Jedi, and yet, the showrunners for Star Wars: Resistance just happened to forget? The film was clearly on their minds considering the Colossus travels to D’Qar and Xiono salvages fuel from the destroyed Fulminatrix. Yet, for reasons I cannot figure out, the Colossus is able to slip away at the end of the episode without a care in the galaxy, completely safe even though the First Order harbors the technology to follow and destroy Xiono and his friends. 

Oh, and for the record, I did my due diligence and waited patiently to watch Episode 3 (“Live Fire”) before I wrote this post. I figured, at the very least, maybe the showrunners had a surprise for the audience and the First Order DID track the Colossus. Well, I don’t want to spoil anything but I will say this: they didn’t track the Colossus.

#facepalm #sigh #continuityconfusion 

Continuity Confusion in The Last Jedi

The overarching plot to The Last Jedi is pretty straight-forward:

Fleeing their hidden base on D’Qar just as a First Order fleet shows up, the four vessels in the Resistance fleet zips into hyperspace following a deadly battle. However, when they exit hyperspace, the First Order fleet also re-appears and it quickly dawns on General Leia Organa that the enemy has tracked them through hyperspace, a concept thought to be impossible! Having only enough fuel for one more hyperspace jump, and knowing that the First Order will just track them through hyperspace once more, the Resistance fleet simply maintains a steady pace, chased by the Star Destroyers of the First Order but staying out of distance from their heavy guns.

With the First Order fleet chasing the Resistance fleet, writer/director Rian Johnson proceeds to tack subplots onto the pursuit. The first is Poe Dameron’s annoyance with Vice Admiral Holdo after she takes over for General Organa, an annoyance steming from being kept out of the loop regarding Holdo’s plan to escape the First Order. In turn, his annoyance will eventually lead to outright mutiny on the part of Dameron and a handful of co-conspirators. The second subplot, which is tied directly to the fleet pursuit AND Dameron’s annoyance, is the side-journey Finn and Rose take to Canto Bight in order to find a code-breaker who can disable the First Order’s hyperspace tracker.

There are, of course, other aspects to the plot of The Last Jedi which primarily revolve around Rey, Luke Skywalker, Kylo Ren, and Supreme Leader Snoke. For the sake of this post, though, I am uninterested in analyzing these other plot elements. This is not to suggest they are unworthy of consideration. Far from it. In fact, I do look at these other plot points in a prior piece titled “Reflections on The Last Jedi.” Here, though, I want to focus solely on the plot as described above, namely the fact that the movie centers on the First Order fleet chasing the Resistance fleet. And, in doing so, I wish to highlight two points of continuity confusion which I find rather apparent in this plotline.

Points of Continuity Confusion

An Imperial research initivative first teased in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story which Jyn Erso comes across as she searches the Scariff database for the Death Star plans, hyperspace tracking resurfaces in The Last Jedi as the critical piece of technology which the First Order uses to follow the Resistance fleet. Without it, the First Order would have been incapable of pursuing the General Organa’s forces after the evacuation and battle of D’Qar. The Resistance, obviously surprised by the First Order’s capability to track them through hyperspace, must then turn to a different plan to escape their adversary.

Supremacy's_hyperspace_tracker
The First Order’s hyperspace tracker.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

That hyperspace tracking is mentioned in Rogue One and is then used as a critical plot device in The Last Jedi is, in and of itself, a worthwhile and interesting point of Star Wars continuity. Never-the-less, I cannot help but be confused by the use of hyperspace tracking in the The Last Jedi in one very specific way:

If the First Order can track the Resistance through hyperspace, then how come they didn’t exit hyperspace slightly ahead, and not directly behind, the Resistance fleet?

This is a question that I have struggled to fully grasp ever since watching The Last Jedi. While I certainly understand, and can appreciate, that the fleet chase is what provides the movie a core part of its narrative, it seems rather silly that the First Order would willingly exit hyperspace at a point that is not advantageous to their primary cause: destroying the Resistance. One would presume that hyperspace tracking enables the First Order to exit lightspeed behind AND ahead of the Resistance, thus ensuring that they are trapped and destroyed.

Yet, exciting lightspeed directly behind the Resistance fleet is what the First Order chooses to do. Okay then, fair enough. But this is also where ANOTHER piece of continuity confusion comes into play – the “Microjump.” In brief, the concept of the microjump is one that has only been used a handful of times in the Star Wars Canon, but it is, never-the-less, a critical and intriguing capability. Essentially, it is the ability to make a tactical jump into hyperspace and travel a very short, precise distance. In effect, a ship enters and then immediately exits lightspeed.

Canonically, the microjump is used for the first time in The Clone Wars Season Two episode “Grievous Intrigue” when Anakin Skywalker makes a tactical hyperspace jump into the middle of the Battle of Saleucami. In Solo: A Star Wars Story, the Millennium Falcon performs a microjump as it is traversing The Channel through the Akkadese Maelstrom towards the planet Kessel. As well, microjumps are also used in three Star Wars novels: Tarkin, Thrawn: Alliances, and Thrawn: Treason. Admittedly, the microjump is a concept that is not widely used by Star Wars storytellers and prior to the release of The Last Jedi, only The Clone Wars and Tarkin provided examples as Solo: A Star Wars Story and the two Thrawn novels were released after The Last Jedi. Then again, prior to The Last Jedi, the concept of hyperspace tracking had only ever been mentioned, and never before used, in any Star Wars tales. And so, this leads me to another, pretty obvious question:

After exiting hyperspace behind the Resistance, why didn’t the First Order fleet – even just one Star Destroyer in the fleet – perform a microjump to get ahead of the Resistance fleet?

Again, I am confused that a fleet chase is even necessary in The Last Jedi considering that the very concept of the microjump provides an easily accessible maneuver for the First Order to trap their enemy. In fact, multiple Star Destroyers could jump in multiple directions, creating a web to ensure that every direction in which the enemy chooses to travel is covered. And yet, for whatever reason, the First Order chooses to just slowly and methodically chase their enemy, simply waiting for the Resistance ships to run out of fuel…

Okay, fine. I will begrudgingly accept that for whatever reason the First Order leadership, obsessed as it is with destroying the Resistance, chooses not to take advantage of the ability to easily get ahead of the Resistance fleet using a microjump. But the thing is, this is only one side of the coin. You see, even if we presume that the First Order just chooses NOT to perform a microjump, the Resistance leadership – namely General Organa and Vice Admiral Holdo – have no way of knowing if any First Order Star Destroyers are already ahead of their fleet.

Seriously, just think about it for a second. This aspect of the plot of The Last Jedi is premised on the notion that the First Order can, and has, tracked the Resistance through hyperspace. Even in figuring this out, the Resistance has absolutely no way of knowing if any First Order Star Destroyers jumped PAST them and are lying in wait. Further, Organa and Holdo have no way of knowing if, at any moment, the First Order will perform a microjump to get ahead of their fleet. In other words, the actions of the Resistance leadership really make no sense given that they should be able to deduce the possibility that there might be now, or will be very soon, First Order ships directly ahead of them.

The Raddus
The Raddus
Photo Credit: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

And this is even more confusing when we consider that the Resistance plan is quite literally straight-forward: traveling in a line which will take them past the planet Crait where they will secretly slip away in transports while their main cruiser – the Raddus – continues traveling in that straight-line. Seriously, that is the plan. Go in a straight-line past the ONLY planet they can possibly escape to while ignoring the fact that the First Order could just microjump to Crait before they even arrive.

Yet, the thing is, The Last Jedi completely and utterly ignores this possibility which is precisely why I am confused by the fleet chase. It isn’t that a fleet chase is an implausible plotline, or something that has never happened in Star Wars (see: The Clone Wars Season 1, Episode 2 “Destroy Malevolence”). Rather, it’s the basic fact that the film fails to account for the canonical concepts- hyperspace tracking and microjumping – which render the purpose of the entire chase unnecessary in the first place. At the very least, The Last Jedi should have included a few lines of dialogue on the part of the First Order and the Resistance stating WHY the First Order fleet did not exit hyperspace ahead of the Resistance and why the First Order fleet will not microjump ahead of the Resistance fleet. 

That’s it, that is ALL the film needed to account for these possibilities. Just a few lines of extra dialogue about hyperspace tracking, and some brief explanation of microjumps, would have sufficed.  Except that would have required a little extra work on the part of Rian Johnson and the Lucasfilm Story Group, but let’s be honest, they were too busy acting self-satisfied about The Last Jedi on Twitter. 

I have the time, though, so here are some possible exchanges that could have been added to the film. Enjoy (and leave a comment below):

[Scene: Bridge of Star Destroyer Finalizer after exiting hyperspace behind Resistance]

General Hux: “Our tracker worked perfectly. The Resistance fleet is doomed!”

Captain Peavey: “Genera Hux, the captain of the Harbinger is requesting permission to perform a microjump ahead of the Resistance fleet.”

General Hux: “Permission denied. Organa and her scum will not escape us.”

 

[Scene: Secondary Battle Bridge of the Raddus]

Poe Dameron: “Vice Admiral, Commander Dameron. With our current fuel consumption there’s a very limited amount of time we can stay out of range of those Star Destroyers.”

Vice Admiral Holdo: “Very kind of you to make me aware.”

Dameron: “We also don’t know if the First Order jumped out ahead of us and I’d like to not walk into a trap.”

Holdo: “That is certainly a possibility, although I think you give General…Hugs…too much tactical credit.”

Dameron: “Okkkkkay, so, what we are gonna do to shake them? What’s our plan?”

 

[Scene: Medical Bay in the Raddus]

Finn: “So the First Order is only tracking us from one Destroyer, the lead one.”

Rose: “It tracked us to the exact spot we left hyperspace, which must mean the tracker entirely controls the navicomputer once it is turned on. The First Order couldn’t jump past us because the tracker is locked once the jump to lightspeed takes place.”

Poe: “They could only exit hyperspace behind us…but they could still perform a microjump and get ahead of us now.”

Finn: “Right.”

Poe: “Okay, I think I get it….so we blow up the lead Destroyer and zip away before we run into any other Destroyers that are waiting for us.”

Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor (An Imperial Talker Review)

I recently picked up a copy of Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor and, I have to say, it was a serendipitous find. While the encyclopedic book by Ryder Windham and Adam Bray had been on my radar for a while, it was not a purchase I was planning on making any time soon. That is until I stumbled upon a copy for a reduced price on recent shopping trip. Immediately scooping it up, I dove into the book the night I bought it and found myself incapable of putting it down. From the Foreword, written by Star Wars actor John Boyega who portrays First Order Stormtrooper FN-2187 (Finn), to the final pages which detail the popular fan organization known as the 501st Legion, Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor is a fascinating read that explores the history and cultural relevance of the iconic white-armored Imperial soldiers.

For one who is interested in the behind-the-scenes aspects of Star Wars, especially the endless creative decisions that have gone into the universe, this book will definitely satisfy. Beginning in Chapter One (“Creating an Army”), Windham and Bray offer an in-depth understanding of the vision George Lucas had for stormtroopers and how that vision blossomed into reality on the big screen. Laying out explanations and examples of the early stormtrooper designs created by artist Ralph McQuarrie, and describing the aesthetic choices made by the production and art departments working on the film, the authors provide a rich picture of the development of stormtroopers for A New Hope. In subsequent chapters, Windham and Bray expand on these creative choices by examining how the original design of the stormtroopers would be altered time and again, with new trooper variants being incorporated into the ever growing Star Wars galaxy.

In regards to these variants, as a big fan of the Snowtrooper – check out my piece Trooping Through the Snow – I particularly enjoyed learning about how the specialized troops in cold weather gear were created for The Empire Strikes Back. As Windham and Bray mention in this section, McQuarrie’s original design for the snowtrooper officers – which were conceptualized as super commandos from the planet Mandalore – would ultimately be used by Lucas as the armor schematic for Boba Fett. As well, the all-white super commando design would be used in the Star Wars Rebels animated show, debuting in the aptly named episode “Imperial Super Commandos.” As well, I also found the information detailing Death Troopers from the film standalone film Rogue One to be  fascinating. The design of the Death Trooper, the authors note, goes back to the original McQuarrie concepts which depict tall, sleek stormtroopers. 

While the aesthetics and production decisions which have gone into designing stormtroopers and their many variants for the films (and other mediums) are explored in Beyond the Armor, Windham and Bray also explore the variety of stormtrooper toys and collectibles which have been created over the years. Admittedly, these sections really stood out as I know very little about the way the toy industry operates, but also because the authors discuss a handful of toys which I had as a kid. And for me, no stormtrooper-related toy described in the book stood out more than the Micro Machines Stormtrooper/The Death Star transforming action set because it is one of the Star Wars toys I still own from my childhood. Plus, it is still in perfect condition, a Star Wars miracle considering all of the other Micro Machines action sets I owned did not survive the disaster area known as “Jeff’s room.”

Stormtroopers
The Micro Machines Stormtrooper/The Death Star transforming action set (center) with a few other pieces of my “Trooper Collection.”

The relationship between stormtroopers and fan culture is also explored in Beyond the Armor, with special emphasis focusing on the 501st Legion. A fan-led organization that specializes in the “bad guys” of Star Wars, the 501st Legion, founded by Albin Johnson in 1997, combines a love of costuming with community service. While the information about fan culture and the 501st Legion was not as interesting or relevant to me, it is never-the-less a critical aspect of the book which helps to highlight the cultural legacy of stormtroopers specifically, and Star Wars more generally. And, at the very least, one will undoubtedly walk away from the book knowing far more about Star Wars fan culture than when they first started reading. I certainly did. 

As I said at the outset, Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor was an unintended purchase but, in the end, one that worked out for the best. While reading an encyclopedic book with behind-the-scenes information about Star Wars is not everyone’s cup-o-tea, this book is definitely one worth getting, especially if you happen to stumble upon it for a reduced price like I did. Admittedly, there are some sections that drag on a bit more than I thought necessary but this never kept me from wanting to keep reading and learning. In all likelihood, I won’t be reading Beyond the Armor again from cover-to-cover unless I get really ambitious, but it will definitely come in handy as a reference book when I need to refresh my memory about some stormtrooper-related topic. Plus, if nothing else, it will look pretty cool on one of my Star Wars bookshelves.

If you have read Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor and would like to share your thoughts on it, leave a comment below.

Reflections on The Last Jedi

I can say, with little remorse, that I have not yet purchased The Last Jedi. This isn’t to suggest I never will. The need – not a want, a need – to place the film next to the other Star Wars films on my shelf will eventually take over. For now, I can fight that urge, pushing back against the feeling that my shelf looks incomplete. But why am I fighting this feeling? Why not give in and just buy the most recent installment in the Star Wars franchise? I am a die-hard Star Wars fan after all, so why haven’t I gone out of my way to purchase and obsessively watch the film? Good questions.

I don’t review films on this site. I don’t review films on this site because I am not a professional reviewer, a critic trained to offer an appraisal of a piece of work. I am a fan of Star Wars, I have opinions, but those opinions do not give me the authority to offer any truly nuanced or unbiased “take.” I don’t review films on this site, but I am never-the-less, here and now, ready and willing to offer my thoughts and opinions on The Last Jedi, doing so with as little bias as possible. But again, this isn’t a formal review, and I don’t get paid to say these things.

A Smattering of Things I Liked

Paige Tico
Paige Tico
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

I appreciate aspects of The Last Jedi. The movie has some remarkable moments, and to me none is more remarkable than the moment Paige Tico sacrifices herself to save the small Resistance fleet. Tico, a character who never utters a word, a ball gunner in a Starfortress Bomber blasting away at First Order TIE Fighters. In a desperate moment, with everything on the line, Paige climbs out of her gunner’s chair and performs an act of sacrifice heroism, unleashing the bombs that destroy a First Order Dreadnaught. The action saves the fleet; the action takes her life.

I appreciate aspects of The Last Jedi, and I genuinely appreciate the acting of Kylo Ren actor Adam Driver. I was captivated by Driver’s portrayal of Kylo in The Force Awakens. I was swept away by his portrayal in The Last Jedi. Kylo Ren is not just a villain in The Last Jedi, he truly is the “monster” Rey calls him. The Dark Side isn’t just strong in him, it consumes him in a flame that burns hotter than Mustafar. He is ready and willing to destroy everything to prove himself, to be like his grandfather, to be his grandfather, to be greater than his grandfather. Darth Vader, Lord of Death. Kylo Ren, Supreme Lord of Darkness. Redemption isn’t even on this guys radar. Only death, only destruction, only darkness, only power.

I appreciate aspects of The Last Jedi, and there are smattering of moments and characters and events I really enjoyed. I loved the design of the Resistance Bombers, the First Order Dreadnaught, the AT-M6 Walkers, the Resistance capital ships. I liked the geography of Crait, and the fact that Caluan Ematt is a General leading the Resistance forces on the planet. Laura Dern is great as Vice Admiral Holdo, although I wish her sacrifice – which is visually incredible – had been saved for Episode IX since it overshadows the sacrifice of Paige Tico. Carrie Fisher’s final portrayal as Leia Organa is  very moving (sans the weird space floating moment) and her final interaction with Luke, even though he isn’t physically present, is quite touching.

KyloRey
Kylo and Rey fighting together is a pretty cool sequence. Watch closely and you’ll notice that Rey should have easily been killed.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

I could list other things, other aspects of the film I genuinely liked. But I am not here to just list things, and I don’t think you want to read a list. The truth is, those aspects of the film I just listed – and a few others here and there – are all I can muster when it comes to this film. I can identify “things” about The Last Jedi I liked and that is all. I envy those who have been so moved by this film, who have elevated it into top place in their Star Wars rank lists. I wish I could do the same – it wouldn’t supplant The Empire Strikes Back in my list but #2 is a fluid spot – but sadly I cannot. I am a life-long Star Wars fan and this film just doesn’t move me, it just doesn’t feel right. There are a handful of profound moments but this movie just isn’t very profound.

Wading into the Shallows

I am well-aware that those who love The Last Jedi see incredible depth in it, that they believe this film has done something to Star Wars that is magnificent, breathtaking, groundbreaking. I understand what they are saying, I even understand how they are thinking. I just don’t agree. The common refrain I run into is that the writer/director Rian Johnson has “let the past die,” jettisoning aspects of the Star Wars saga – even aspects of The Force Awakens – to tell a unique and different type of Star Wars story. Perhaps nothing points to this more clearly than by Rian Johnson’s depiction of Luke Skywalker as a broken shell of a Jedi, a man determined to die in-exile.

Heading into the film I knew Luke Skywalker was going to be broken in some form and I was perfectly fine with that reality. “Luke Skywalker has vanished” the opening crawl to The Force Awakens tells the audience in the very first line and to its credit The Last Jedi shows us that the line is not solely about being geographically lost. Heck, the film could have been titled “The Lost Jedi” because Luke Skywalker has completely lost touch with who he was when we last saw him in Return of the Jedi. “I am a Jedi like my father before me,” young Skywalker once proudly declared to the Dark Lord Sidious in the single most important moment in the Original Trilogy. “I’m ending all of this. The tree, the texts, the Jedi. I’m going to burn it all down,” he now tells Master Yoda (who appears as a Force ghost). Damn, the Luke Skywalker we knew really has vanished!!! It’s no wonder so many older fans of the franchise have lamented that this isn’t the Luke they remember…

Is This REALLY Luke?

In a guest post on this site – An Ignoble End to the Skywalker Saga – my friend Nancy  succinctly notes that the Luke Skywalker we experience in The Last Jedi “…could not cope with the crushing disappointment of Kylo’s turn towards the dark side and the guilt he felt towards letting Leia and Han down.” To this we can add that he feels equally guilty for Ben Solo’s ultimate turn to the Dark Side. You know, that moment when he stood above his sleeping nephew, ignited his green lightsaber and contemplated, momentarily, ending the boy’s life. When he recalls the event, Luke initially lies to Rey about what happened. Or rather, he offers a “Kenobian” point-of-view to his new protégé. But I digress. Ben Solo, frightened as he wakes and looks up at his uncle holding the blade, defends himself. Who wouldn’t? But then the young Solo does more, tearing down the Jedi Academy that Skywalker had built, killing the students (with the help of other students who had dark feelings?) and fleeing to the warmth, love, and manipulation of Supreme Leader Snoke.

That Ben Solo-turned-Kylo Ren destroyed everything Luke had painstakingly built in the years after Return of the Jedi makes sense. It was the story I expected after watching The Force Awakens. The surprising bit is that Luke Skywalker took a completely non-Luke Skywalker action which was the catalyst for Ben’s final step into the Dark Side. With the momentary ignition of his green lightsaber as he stands above his sleeping nephew, the scene from Return of the Jedi where Luke cast aside the exact same blade, refusing to kill his father, is itself thrown aside.

“This is not going to go the way you think,” Skywalker declares to Rey at one point in the movie. “Let the past die, kill it if you have to.” Kylo Ren tells Rey at another point in the film. Over and over again, The Last Jedi champions what it is doing: tearing down the foundations of Star Wars with something new and radical. The movie spends a lot of time self-referencing with quotes and metaphors (a building literally crumbles, burying Luke, when Ben defends himself) to prove this is the case, to make us believe we are watching a radically new and fresh version of Star Wars. The thing is…

I don’t buy it. From my vantage point, the self-references and metaphors – and the shallow depth of the film – are just clever tricks distracting us from the obvious. Namely, that we have seen this story once before:

A teacher takes on a gifted, young student who has incredible power. The teacher trains the student, but the student has dark thoughts and feelings, and those thoughts and feelings grow like a virus in the mind. Eventually, the teacher must confront the student, and the student fights back. While the teacher chooses not to kill the student, the damage is already done. The teacher is left feeling guilty and flees into exile. The student puts on a mask that represents their dark turn. Years later, the two finally confront one another again. The teacher is aware of their own shortcomings, that they failed the student. The student believes they are the more powerful now, but little do they know that their teacher is truly more powerful than the student can possibly imagine. Their final battle ensues, and in a critical moment, the student slashes a red blade through their former teacher…only to be left stunned and confused by their former teacher’s final lesson.

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker?
Luke Skywalker and Ben Solo?
Rey and *insert the villain from Episodes X, XI, XII*

LukevsKylo
Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren face off on Crait.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi


We Need to Talk about Rey

Speaking of Rey, for being the heroine of this new trilogy, The Last Jedi goes to ridiculous lengths to build her up through Acts I & II only to have her be a non-factor in Act III. Her story is an interesting one and I genuinely like Rey, but for all of her training with Luke, her Force connection with Kylo Ren, and her (brash) decision to run off and try to save Ben from the monster within him, her story is effectively set aside in the Final Act. Why? Because this film isn’t about Rey. It is really about Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren. Don’t get me wrong, Rey has a lot of cool character development and some intriguing bits happen to her. Never-the-less, from my vantage point, Rey is ultimately set aside in what is supposed to be her own story. 

Of course, one could argue that Rey’s connection with Kylo Ren is the most fascinating aspect of the movie. In fairness, I wouldn’t entirely disagree. The relationship between Kylo Ren (Dark Side) and Rey (Light Side) is where a lot of the philosophical “depth” in The Last Jedi comes into play. This depth is certainly interesting, but it is a depth that is knee deep at best. For all of the Ontological-meets-Ethical Dualism which Rey and Kylo Ren represent, specifically as it relates to the “Balance of the Force” (whatever the hell that even means at this point), any opportunity to truly dive into the mysterious abyss of the Force never really happens. An opportunity certainly existed, one where Luke  could have helped Rey work through her connection to Kylo (and vice-versa with Snoke helping Kylo work through his relationship with Rey). This would have been a prime opportunity to highlight Luke (and Snoke) as mentors, while shedding light on this intriguing and new conception of the Force. Instead, the movie gives us only fleeting glimpses of these deeper philosophical undertones while simultaneously distracting us from them (i.e. – Kylo being shirtless; the two awkwardly touching hands; Rey running off to save Ben). Then again, I’m not sure the film even knows how to take things into the deep end of the pool. In fact, I would liken it to this: The Last Jedi (and Rian Johnson) give off the impression of a college freshman who took Introduction to Philosophy, read snippets from the I Ching, the Avesta, the Gathas, and The Jedi Path, and is now acting like a pretentious know-it-all who has minimal grasp on what they are saying. Which leads me to this…

“Getting” The Last Jedi

As Nancy and I were chatting recently about the film, she mentioned that “…there is this attitude that if you didn’t like Rian Johnson’s vision then you weren’t smart or deep enough to ‘get’ The Last Jedi.” In other words, it is as if one must possess a gnostic knowledge to truly “understand” the esoteric depth at the core of this movie. If only Nancy, or myself, or others who do not love and worship the film as a gift to Star Wars had the special knowledge to understand it, we would finally see just how profound The Last Jedi truly is. But like I said earlier, I really don’t think it is very profound.

For over two hours, I watched a film I had already seen before. Or rather, I watched a film that took thematic elements from a handful of films that I have already seen before. Don’t get me wrong, there ARE things in this film that are new, and things in this film that are intriguing. I mean, I have NEVER seen the aliens in the Canto Bight Casino before (but I have been confronted by never-before-seen aliens in a casino/cantina-esque setting before). Yet, for all the new stuff in this film, as a whole it just came off as an amalgamation of ALL the Star Wars films, pretending to be something radical and fresh while simultaneously offering philosophical possibilities that are never really teased out.

I envy those who have experienced The Last Jedi as this new and fresh dive into the Star Wars universe. Truly, I do. I wish I had the gnosis they possess and the connection tot he film that leads them to see it as philosophically deep and spiritually mystical. Then again, I don’t really believe there is any there “there,” or at least not enough to elevate The Last Jedi to the top of the Star Wars pantheon. Rather, The Last Jedi is just a film masquerading as something truly special, a “child in a mask” playing Star Wars dress up. Does it attempt some intriguing things, even getting away with a handful? Of course it does. But the thing is, if I want to really experience Star Wars, I will watch the Original six films. Hell, I’ll even watch The Force Awakens – which is also a derivative amalgamation but is at least AWARE it is – and I will definitely watch Rogue One – which woefully lacks women but is never-the-less a stellar homage to A New Hope. On the flip side, if I feel like watching something that is “technically” Star Wars but that thinks it is way smarter and self-important than it really is, I’ll watch The Last Jedi. Granted, I’ll need to buy it first, and right now I have better things to spend my money on.